When I first switched over from Pro Tools to Ableton, I found that my workflow had drastically changed. The program feels so much more user-friendly and makes recording and performing seem like a breeze.
While I was still recording with analog gear and acoustic instruments, I began to realize that all I truly needed to make a lot of my music was my computer, my software, and a solid MIDI keyboard controller.
With the thousands of models on the market, though, it was difficult to find one that was best suited for Ableton.
Thankfully, through experience and research, we were able to compile a list of some of our favorite MIDI keyboards for Ableton so that you can skip the gear hunt and get straight to producing.
Top 5 Ableton Keyboards Compared
Our Top Pick!
Akai is one of those companies that has always had music production at the forefront of their product design, and the Akai MPK249 is the epitome of a beautifully designed MIDI controller.
It is perfect for Ableton, as it comes with a ton of different assignable buttons, 8 high-quality faders, and 8 smooth rubber knobs, each of which can be integrated to your software.
Every facial feature on the device has the ability to correspond with any adjustable parameter on your Ableton software, making your functionality nearly limitless.
The 16-backlit pads on the MPK249 are automatically mapped to your drum rack when you load it up too. Each of the pads has aftertouch, as well as the full-sized semi-weighted keys, giving you an excellent feel.
Lastly, you have the onboard arpeggiator that helps to turn whatever software instrument you load up into a melodic arpeggio.
Bottom Line: The Akai MPK249 is probably one of the most solid MIDI keyboard controllers out on the market. It has taken the loved and popular features of Akai’s past products and has brought them to the present with its sleek and sturdy build. From functionality to versatility, the Akai MPK249 has the most seamless integration with Ableton out of any MIDI keyboard we can think of and is worth the investment.
Best Budget Option
This is one of the best budget MIDI keyboards on the market for Ableton and is probably the cheapest one worth a good mention. On the keyboard, you have 8 knobs that can be assigned to parameter, 1 master slider for volume, and a few different buttons for functions, octave switches, etc.
Other than that, you pretty much get a standard MIDI controller without all the bells and whistles. The 25 keys are synth-action, meaning very lightweight and easy to play fast lines with, though won’t give you the same response as a higher-end, semi-weighted board.
This keyboard is bus-powered and short in length, making it perfect for the on-the-go producer who hates the idea of clicking and dragging MIDI notes within their Ableton clips.
It also comes with a sustain pedal to give you more organic control, as well as 8-backlit pads that are perfect for syncing up with Ableton’s drum rack.
Bottom Line: M-Audio has always been a reliable company, and they make some of the best cheap MIDI keyboards on the market. If you’re on a severe budget, though you need a small set of keys and pads to control your MIDI instruments in Ableton, the M-Audio Oxygen 25 is a solid choice.
Novation has some of the nicest MIDI equipment out there and is a great competitor for Akai’s keyboards. We honestly think the keys on the Impulse might be a bit stronger than Akai’s with their beautiful semi-weighted feel and aftertouch capabilities.
The keyboard comes with 49-keys, 9 assignable faders, 8 assignable knobs, and an array of button controls. As for the drum pads, they’re not quite MPC pads, though they feel nice and are just as capable of launching clips and triggering samples as the MPK249.
If you don’t quite have Ableton Live yet, you’ll be happy to know that the Novation Impulse comes bundled with Live Lite, perfect for burgeoning producers. You also get a couple of synth sounds and Loopmasters sample packs along with the keyboard.
The Automap software is included as well, though it integrates well with Ableton, so unless you’re using other DAWs alongside Ableton, you might not even need it.
Bottom Line: Overall, the Novation Impulse is an incredibly responsive MIDI keyboard and is excellent for all-around professional control of your Ableton software. Only if you’re playing is more keyboard-oriented would we recommend this one over the MPK249, simply because of the “feel”.
Just like the Impulse, this keyboard is really geared towards those who are playing more keyboard-oriented music, as the semi-weighted keys feel have a traditional feel.
The keys are lightweight, though also incredibly sturdy, making your piano lines easier to play while maintaining realism. The onboard InControl buttons allow you to switch through scenes and clips, giving you the ability to run through a live set with ease.
You also get an array of onboard faders and knobs for assignable parameter control, each of which feel high-quality and smooth.
Besides all the functionality, the Launchkey looks sleek. The thin, dark black profile will fit perfectly with any modern studio setup. We do recommend having an extra table space or stand to fit this on though, as it is wide and probably not the best for sitting on top of a small home studio desk.
Bottom Line: The Novation LaunchKey 49 MKII is a cheaper alternative to the Impulse and is perfect for those who are looking for a MIDI keyboard with a more realistic set of keys.
Just like the LaunchKey 49, the Alesis VX49 is another sleek and modern looking MIDI keyboard, perfect for the modern production studio. It comes with 49 full-sized, semi-weighted keys and 8 RGB velocity and pressure sensitive pads, all which utilize aftertouch.
You also get 8 switch pads that help you to toggle through different virtual instrument parameters as well.
The incorporated Virtual Instrument Player allows you to navigate through parameters in your various third-party plugins, giving you an edge on top of the already integrated DAW performance.
You also get 8 360-degree rubber knobs and a high-resolution LCD screen on the front that gives you a visual reference of your assignable faders. This gives you real-time feedback of different plugin parameters so that you never have to look up at your computer screen.
Bottom Line: If you’re a producer who is looking for full control from their MIDI keyboard, the Alesis VX49 is one of the best in that regard. This makes the Alesis a great choice for live performances as well.
What to Consider Before Buying a Midi Keyboard for Ableton
Buttons, Faders, and Knobs
Now obviously you can point and click everything in Ableton to arrange and organize your tracks, though having buttons, faders, and knobs, that can integrate with your software can make your overall workflow better.
Some MIDI keyboards will come with buttons that act as controls for playing, recording, and stopping your music. This can be helpful if you’re recording from another room where you can’t utilize your computer keyboard or mouse.
Faders can also control functions within Ableton and give you better physical control when mixing. If you hop into session view, you can easily assign the software faders to the faders on your keyboard, allowing you to mix multiple sounds in real time.
Knobs are excellent, as Ableton has many adjustable parameters like filters, panning, warping, etc., all of which can be adjusted and manipulated using knobs. If you’re using a software instrument on Ableton that has Macros (typically they will come with 8 macro controls), you can adjust those macros to create automation. This can give your music a more organic sound vs. someone who sits and draws out automation with a mouse.
Ableton has what they call a Drum Rack. It is essentially a large grid that allows you to drop in, play, and manipulate anything from drums to percussion and beyond.
You can play each of the individual samples you place there with your keyboard controller, though having pads gives you an entirely different experience, one similar to the beatmakers back in the MPC days.
A lot of keyboards will come with 4x4 pad setups that will map to your drum rack automatically when you pull it up. This can make tapping out ideas or creating full-on drum breaks feel a lot more natural.
One cool characteristic you should look out for when purchasing a MIDI controller with pads is aftertouch. Aftertouch can send extra data to your software the more pressure you put on the pad. This can help add vibrato, volume, or a multitude of other parameters to your sound, making it even more organic than before.
Ableton comes with its own arpeggiator plugin for MIDI instruments, giving you the ability to turn any software instrument into a sequencer.
Even better, some MIDI keyboards come with the same thing, and the feature can be extremely helpful, especially if you’re making something like electronic music on the fly.
Having an onboard arpeggiator can help you to adjust your arp parameters more fluidly. In all, an onboard arpeggiator can give you a more organic approach to your music. Seeing a theme here?
Are you someone that has a small studio space or bedroom “production suite”?
Are you constantly travelling and producing your music on the go?
I’m always seeing people posted up at coffee shops or airports with their laptops running Ableton. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were that person!
If this sounds like you, then I’d suggest going for something lighter that can be easily transported.
There are so many possibilities in music production with Ableton, so wouldn’t it make sense to get a MIDI controller that could unleash all of those possibilities?
Having a quality MIDI keyboard for use within Ableton can significantly change your workflow and help you to produce music in a more organic fashion
All in all, we have to stick with the Akai MPK249 as our favorite Ableton MIDI keyboard. Akai is so incredibly reliable, and the keyboard’s integration with Ableton’s software is unparalleled. If you’re a traditional type of producer, you’ll enjoy the feel of it too.
Remember to consider all of the things mentioned above when looking for a keyboard to fit your needs, as well as your budget. Now get out there and make some hits!